A day in the life of a poll worker: Mid-term election November 6, 2018

by Connie Caldwell

We arrive at the big front doors of our precinct, the Museum of Natural History on campus before 6 am.  It’s dark. We’re a team of seven. There’s much to prepare and we must be ready for voters by 7.

I help with whatever I can: with Kathryn, the “ballot lady,” setting up cardboard voting booths on the long tables and distributing pens in the voting booths; with Paul, plugging in and powering up the EVIDs (Electronic Voter Identification).

“The other” Mike places the necessary signs outside and around the room. Carina sets up her ballot scanners. Ashley, the assistant clerk, helps everyone. At 6:40 I ask Mike, the clerk, what else I can do.

There’s nothing right now, so I take this opportunity to eat some of the breakfast I had brought with me. I’m back by 6:50. I take my seat at my EVID and quickly review, again, the steps in my manual for checking in a voter.

Now it’s 7. Yes, there’s a line of young people waiting!

We begin. After the first few voters I’m finding it easy and fun. I enjoy greeting each one, and so many of them are first-time voters.

Quite often I have to send someone to the Clerk’s table for a change of address or other issue. Some have to be directed to another polling place.

The fact that the Phillips Center next door is also a polling place is causing some confusion. It’s not obvious, when approaching from outside, that there are two different polling locations. People show up at one place when they should be at the other, and sometimes they’ve already stood in line for a long time.

Later, I think maybe it would have helped to have someone check their voter registration cards when they approach the lines. Maybe I will suggest that for next time.

We keep our line moving. Occasionally there’s a break and I can stand up and walk around for a minute or two.

I choose the 11 am lunch half-hour. Jeff brings in sandwiches (lucky me) and we eat quickly in the small break room. I’m super-hungry and shaky but I can only eat half a sandwich. They’re big. Then I’m back at my station.

One young woman who comes to check in asks how I am. That’s when I realize I’ve already been doing this for six hours. And there are six more to go.

But I can do this. I must do this. At times during the afternoon I feel a bit woozy, sometimes shivery. It’s cold in the room but I think my shivers are not just from the cold. A couple of times I ask the voter in front of me to wait a few seconds while I get a sip of water.

In the thick of it I need a bathroom break. Ashley, the assistant clerk, takes over for me. I go to the break room, too, and get another bite or two of my sandwich, feeling guilty while I’m at it, but we can’t have food in the room with us.

Somewhat refreshed, I’m back at my EVID. The young people keep coming. I thank them for voting when I think of it, especially the ones whose birth date is 1999 or 2000. I know they’re voting for the first time. I love seeing their fresh young faces. It’s very encouraging. I hope they will continue to vote in the future, even if their candidates don’t win this time. I hope this means a generation of involved citizens coming up!

During the afternoon and evening it’s constant, no breaks at all. I’m on automatic pilot by now. Then suddenly it’s 7 pm. We did it!

By 7:10 we’ve checked in every voter. Only one young woman comes after we’ve closed. She tells us that she just got off work. It’s hard, turning her away but we have no choice. Later I wonder how many people in the long line that still snakes around the Phillips Center should have been in our line, and won’t be allowed to vote.

Now we have to wait for all the people who are still here to finish marking their long ballots before we can begin packing up and going through the process of shutting down. One young man says he has mistakenly marked two ovals on an item. He chooses to cast his ballot anyway, knowing that particular item won’t count.

Another young man has a similar issue. He chooses to re-do his entire ballot. We continue to wait.

There are two poll watchers who have been with us all day, sitting together unobtrusively in a corner and occasionally walking around the room. One of them takes pity on us and brings us food. She places a small plate of snacks on the shelf behind each of us.

All day I had been telling myself, “Well, it’s supposed to be healthy to fast occasionally.” Now that we’re done checking in voters I have time to enjoy the food the poll watcher has brought. I eat every morsel.

As soon as the last voter has finished, we begin shutting down everything and packing up. All our numbers are easily reconciled. We’ve done well. We feel like a team. By 8:45 we can go home.

My plan had been to join Jeff at the after-party at Cypress and Grove Brewery. I call Jeff. He says it’s loud and crazy there.

Well, at this point all I want is home and a beer. I head home. After feeding the cat, I settle in my rocking chair with my beer and the newspaper puzzles. It takes my brain a while to come home and settle down. As I sit there I keep looking up to greet the next person in line!

Yes, it was a long, grueling day. Would I do it again?

At mid-afternoon I would have said no. But by the end of the evening there was a feeling of camaraderie with my fellow workers, and a sense of elation, realizing what we had accomplished.

I think my elation is about all the young voters who came to us, and that we were just one of at least four precincts on campus. I’m grateful that I was stationed at this particular precinct. And yes, I just might do it again.  

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